Parish registers

Parish Registers

General bibliography of genealogy and history

Suggested Method of Research in the Parish Registers

Obstacles and Difficulties of Research in Parish Registers


The parish registers are the most reliable and indispensable sources of family history research. Besides, they are the most significant sources of genealogical, historical-statistical and demographical researches as well. They are also essential while making monographs of local history and the processing of the history of certain regions. The diocesan council of Veszprém, held in 1515, is regarded as the start of the expansion of the use of parish registers in Hungary. The inaccurate and ambiguous declaration of the council instructed parsons to record christenings in order to register spiritual affinity. It was based on canonical law according to which spiritual affinity, as well as consanguinity, was considered to be marriage impediment. It was Pope Pius IV who, as a result of the deliberations of the Council of Trent, ordered the introduction of regular registration in 1563. In Hungary, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church the Council of Nagyszombat ordered the introduction and maintenance of parish registers at the beginning of the Counter-Reformation in 1611, though sparse registrations occurred at some places before that time, too. A great change occurred in 1625, when Archbishop of Esztergom Péter Pázmány rendered obligatory the Rituale Romanum, issued by Pope Paul V, in the whole country. The Rituale Romanum introduced five types of registers: registers of christening, marriage, death, confirmation and the so-called Status Animarum recording the census of the population according to the households and families at the time of the Easter Holy Communion. In the 17th century the Rituale Romanum was published in three more editions: in 1656, 1672 and 1692. Although from the 1630’s the correct making up and the keeping of parish registers were regularly supervised on the occasions of canonical visitations (Visitationes Canonicae), the continuous and general registering could start in Great Hungary – with the exception of the northern counties – only after driving out the Turks. In 1822 the ecclesiastical authorities enforced the making of alphabetical name lists which eased researching to a great extent. The Act 23 of 1827 ordered the keeping of parish registers in two copies, mainly for security reasons. Duplicate copies are stored in the competent local archives, with the exclusion of copies from the central diocese of Kalocsa–Kecskemét. Those duplicates are kept in the Archiepiscopal Archives of Kalocsa–Kecskemét. Besides, parish registers are stored in the Archives of the Evangelical Congregation of Szarvas, the Baptist Archives of Budapest and the Archives of the Orthodox Diocese of Buda set up in Szentendre, as well. Regarding Protestant churches, the full powers to keep registers was granted by Emperor Joseph Habsburg II in 1785. However, at some special localities (loca articularia), registration had begun much earlier. In Hungary, the regular and compulsory registration of Israelite population was introduced as late as the Bach Era (July 1851), but in that case, too, there were places where registration had begun long before that date.

Registers of christening, marriage, death and – in some cases – confirmation did not record only the serving of sacraments; they were also considered to be authentic documents, because the official registering had not existed before 1 October 1895.

The microfilm collection of the National Archives of Hungary holds the duplicates of parish registers from the localities of the present territory of Hungary, created by the historical churches – the Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Calvinist, Lutheran and Israelite, before 1 October 1895. In addition, the National Archives, in small numbers, preserves microfilms of registers of the Baptist, Unitarian and Nazarene small churches. Some copies of registers from the territory of the historical Hungary, existed before the Treaty of Trianon, can also be found in the Archives: mainly from Upper Hungary (from the Csallóköz), Southern Hungary (from Bácska), the Northern Borderland (Burgenland), the Mura region (in Slovenia), the Drávaszög (the southern part of Baranya – today in Croatia), as well as some registers from ethnic Hungarian villages in Bukovina.

This vast and unique collection was actually made for the Mormon Church. Most of the registers were microfilmed between 1959 and 1967. Microfilming in the National Archives of Hungary, initiated by the Archival Centre of the Ministry of Culture, was continuous during that period. The copies of church registers from the period before 1 October 1895 were made for the Genealogical Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah, USA) at the Mormon Church’s costs. Some of the microfilms were transported to the Archives through replenishment, international exchange and donation of duplicate copies stored compulsorily in the competent municipal archives after 1828.

Public (state) registration was introduced by the Act 23 of 1894 and has been in force since 1 October 1895. From that date registers have been preserved at mayoral offices, whereas duplicates have been transferred to the competent territorial (county) archives. Theoretically, according to the paragraphs 23 and 24 of the Archives Act (1995:66), they are accessible (after 90, 60 or 30 years); practically they are inaccessible for family researchers and genealogists. In most cases, researchers may obtain copies only for scientific purposes after anonymizing.

Before starting a research in the registers, researchers need to know the wanted person\\'s or family\\'s place of residence, religion, as well as his place and approximate date of birth/marriage/death. Furthermore, in connection with the districts of church administration, it is always expedient to gather information from the proper church catalogues.

For searching in parish registers and sources of family history, gazetteers are essential. Place-names frequently changed, because settlements joined, merged into each other or separated. By the way, until the turn of the century, general confusion prevailed among place-names. Before that, no regulations had existed concerning the competence of naming. Communities and owners had been allowed to decide on the names of unpopulated and inhabited territories as well. Disarray of naming occurred mainly in areas with diverse ethnic units. Earlier local, popular names blended with foreign or official versions which often had several forms. The chaos even increased after the creation of post offices, railway and steamship companies. Their names frequently contained arbitrary tags, too. At the beginning of the 20th century, several places had the same names. As a result, today it is quite complicated to find out in which parish, congregation or community the population of a certain settlement with mixed ethnic units was registered at a certain time. In case of lack of local parish registers, the more detailed gazetteers and church catalogues may help to find out in which neighbouring settlement the inhabitants were registered (i.e. of which mother-church out-parish the settlement in question was). For this purpose, we recommend the following publication: A Magyar Korona országainak helységnévtára I–IV. [Gazetteer on the countries of the Hungarian Crown I–IV.] Budapest, 1895. In case you need to ascertain in which country or district of the historic Hungary the settlement in point was, what its official name was, what its nationality names were, in which country it can be found today; then we recommend the following gazetteers:

  • Mihály Gyalay: Magyar igazgatástörténeti helységnévlexikon 1723–1918, továbbá a későbbi államkeretekbe osztott területek részletes adataival kiegészítve általában 1989-ig. [Place-name encyclopedia of Hungarian administration history from 1723 to 1918.] Budapest, 1989., and its enlarged edition: I–II. vol. Budapest, 1998.
  • György Lelkes: Magyar helységnév-azonosító szótár. [Hungarian place-name encyclopaedia.] Budapest, 1992.
  • György Lelkes: Magyar helységnév-azonosító szótár. [Hungarian place-name encyclopaedia.] 2. emended and enlarged edition. Baja, 1998.
  • László Sebők: Magyar neve? Határokon túli magyar helységnévszótár. [And what is it called in Hungarian? Hungarian place-name encyclopaedia of settlements located beyond the frontier.] Budapest, 1990.
  • László Sebők: Határokon túli magyar helységnévszótár. [Hungarian place-name encyclopaedia of settlements located beyond the frontier.] Budapest, 1997. (Emended and enlarged edition)
  • Dénes Wildner: A történelmi Magyarország egykori területeinek helynévtára. [Place-name register of the former territories of historical Hungary.] I–II. vol. (Ortslexikon der ehemaligen Gebeite des historischen Ungarns.) Band I–II. Munich, 1996–1998.

Researchers may also make use of the undermentioned publications:

  • Révai Nagy Lexikona. [Révai’s Great Lexicon.] I–XXI. vol. Budapest, 1911–1935.
  • Joannes Lipszky: Repertorium locorum objectorumque in XII tabulis Mappae regnorum Hungariae, Slavoniae, Croatiae, confiniorum Militarium, Magni item Principatus Transylvaniae occurentium. Budae, 1808. (It is particularly useful in case of identifying earlier changes of names!)
  • A történeti Magyarország városainak és községeinek névváltozatai az Országos Községi Törzskönyvbizottság iratanyaga alapján. [Name variations of towns and villages in the historical Hungary according to the records of the National Municipal Register Committee.] Central Statistics Office. Budapest, 1997.

Detailed tourist-maps, road atlases may help in identification as well:

  • Autoatlas Slovenská republika. 1:200 000. Harmanec, 1994–95.
  • Burgenland. Strassenkarte. 1.200 000. Eisenstadt, 1982.
  • Erdély térképe és helységnévtára. [Transylvanian map and gazetteer.] 1:500 000. Budapest, 1995.
  • Kárpátalja. (Sub-Carpathia.) 1:200 000. Hungarian Cartographic Institute, Budapest, 1940.
  • Kroatien - Hrvatska. Grosse Straßenkarte Bl. 1 1:250 000. Wien, 1997.
  • A Magyar Állam közigazgatási térképe 1914-ben. [Administrative map of the Hungarian State in 1914.] 1:400 000. 2. edition. Budapest, 1919.
  • Magyarország autóatlasza. [Road atlas of Hungary.] 1:200 000. Budapest, 1996.
  • Magyarország autóatlasza. [Road atlas of Hungary.] 1:360 000. Budapest, 1998.
  • Magyarországi megyetérképek. [Hungarian county maps.] 1:150 000. Budapest, 1993.
  • Pomurje in Vzohodno Podravlje. Izletniska karta. 1:75 000. Ljubljana, 1993.
  • SAP Vojvodina. 1:300 000. Beograd, 1983.
  • Slovenija. Turistiena autokarta. 1:370 000. Ljubljana, 1992.
  • Székelyföld - Tara Secuilor. [Szeklerland] 1:250 000. Budapest, 1997.
  • Szlovákiai turistatérképek. [Slovakian tourist maps.] 1:100 000. Bratislava, 1975–1985.
  • Ukrainszkije Karpati. Atlasz turiszta. 1:250 000. Moscow, 1987.
  • Zakarpatszka oblaszty. Zagalnogeograficsna karta. 1:200 000. Vinnica, 1993.

In Hungary, episcopates started to publish church registers at the turn of the 19th century. These registers contained the date of their making up; information about the size, the construction, the reconstructions, the patron saint, the chaplains of the church; and data about the congregation and the mother tongue of the votaries.

General bibliography of genealogy and history

Family researchers must have essential knowledge of history, geography and the environment in question. In case the researcher lacks fundamental knowledge of historical, genealogical, political, geographical events, terms, names and technical expressions, then we recommend the following publications:

  • Magyar történelmi fogalomgyűjtemény. [Hungarian historical thesaurus.] Ed. by Péter Bán. I–II. Eger, 1980.
  • Péter Bán: Magyar történelmi fogalomtár I–II. [Hungarian historical thesaurus I–II.] Budapest, 1990.
  • A történelem segédtudományai. [Tool subjects of historical science.] Ed. by István Kállay. Budapest, 1986.
  • Béla Bottló: Genealógia. Történeti segédtudományi alapismeretek. [Genealogy. Fundamentals of historical auxiliary sciences.] Budapest, 1963.
  • Dr. Endre Czeizel: Családfa. Honnan jövünk, mik vagyunk, hová megyünk? [Family tree. Where do we come from, what are we, what are we heading for?] Budapest, 1992.
  • Jared H. Suess: Handy Guide to Hungarian Genealogical Records. Logan, Utah, 1980.

Let us mention the two most complex Hungarian encyclopaedias:

  • A Pallas Nagy Lexikona I–XVIII. [The Pallas Great Lexicon I–XVIII.] Budapest, 1893–1900.
  • A Révai Nagy Lexikona I–XXI. [Révai’s Great Lexicon I–XXI.] Budapest, 1911–1935.

Suggested method of research in the parish registers

Since the main and most important sources of genealogy are the parish registers, we briefly speak about the technique of research as well. It is always practical to proceed backwards in time (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents…). Besides taking notes, it may prove to be useful to make a family tree sketch to the very bottom of which you write the starting person’s name. Above that, write the father’s name to the left hand side, and the mother’s name to the right. Above the father’s name come the paternal grandparents, above the mother\\'s name the maternal grandparents; then above all that write the great-grandparents’ names (8), the great-great-grandparents’ (16), (…) the progenitors’ (64) etc. This is the so-called lineal family tree. Of course, the family tree sketch, and the research that goes with it, becomes increasingly complex and complicated if you study and indicate the collateral lines of descent, too.

Nowadays, due to technical development in the field of family research, the Internet gains getting more and more ground. In Hungary, initiated primarily for educational purposes, the site of Family Memory Program (Családi Emlékezet Program) may help; but various similar foreign homepages are available as well.

Through further analysis of lineal descent we might obtain an amazing result: in the sixth generation we have 64 ancestors, in the tenth we have 1024, in the twentieth we have 1 048 576, in the thirtieth 1 073 471 824, and in the fortieth (it is almost unbelievable): 1 099 511 627 776. We would astonishedly realize that 1 billion people must not have existed in the world since the beginnings. The following explains this seeming contradiction: most of the ancestors are common, because the same person is included on various occasions. Earlier special literature calls this occurrence the loss of ancestors (in German: Ahnenverlust). Nevertheless, it is usually present as the identity of ancestors (in German: Ahnengleichheit), or Implex in today’s genealogical literature. Thanks to technical improvement, the found data of the researched ancestors are frequently put into the computer. Computerized data recording can foster the analysis of consanguinity and the setting up of chronological order. Certainly, every entry of parish registers has not yet been processed, due to technical difficulties. It is almost impossible to process the jumble of several ten million data. Besides, a lot of the hand-written entries are illegible; and misentries and clerical errors are frequent, as well. Therefore, correcting the misentries and the proper reading of the data would make more difficult, or almost unfeasible computerized recording.

In case you know the place and date of birth, as well as the religion of the wanted ancestor, then you have the appropriate point of reference on the basis of which you can start the research. For example, let us suppose that you know about József Tóth that he was born in Szabadka on 20 October 1891, and that he was of Roman Catholic religion. In Szabadka, at the end of the 19th century there were three Roman Catholic parishes where registration occurred (St. Theresa, St. George and St. Rókus). If you do not know at which parish he was baptized, you need to look over all the three of them. Say that you have found the birth (i.e. baptism) entry of József Tóth in the register of St. Theresa parish. From the birth entry, in addition to the place and date of birth, as well as the name, sex and legal status of the new-born, you get information about his parents, István Tóth and Gizella Ágoston, and his godparents, too. In case of a more precise register entry, the parents\\' place of origin and residence, profession, religion, the name of the baptizer, the name of the midwife, etc. may be discovered. The same applies to the godparents’ particulars. In the next move you search for the marriage entry of István Tóth and Gizella Ágoston in the register of marriages. In numerous instances, you need to look over the registrations of 15-20 years, sometimes even more, as in those days 10-15 children were born in one family. Suppose that you have found the wanted entry, the marriage of István Tóth and Gizella Ágoston on 20 November 1885. The marriage entry can also contain many important information which later may further your research. For instance, besides the particulars of the bride and bridegroom (name, age, place of birth and residence, religion), the personal data of the parents and wedding witnesses, the date of announcement, miscellaneous comments etc. At the time of the marriage the bridegroom was 22 years old, and the bride was 19. Consequently, István Tóth was born around 1863, and Gizella Ágoston around 1866. It is advisable, however, to treat the dates calculated this way as approximate data and check the registrations some years backward and forward, because in old times, in many instances, registration dates were treated somewhat “flexibly”, especially in the case of brides. In such cases name indexes can prove to be useful. For example, it can turn out that the bride (Gizella Ágoston) was born in 1868 instead of 1866, so she was only 17 at the time of her marriage. In case you have found the birth entries of István Tóth and Gizella Ágoston, (e.g. István Tóth, born: 20 December 1862, name of father: József Tóth, name of mother: Vera Porkoláb; Gizella Ágoston, born: 25 March 1868, parents: Ferenc Ágoston and Ágnes Galacz) you can turn back to the registers of marriages and start searching for the marriage of József Tóth and Vera Porkoláb proceeding backward in time from 1862, or the marriage of Ferenc Ágoston and Ágnes Galacz proceeding backward in time from 1868. The found data can be added to the family tree sketch or a photocopy can be made of the microfilm.

In an ideal case, by means of the research technique described above, the family tree can be traced back continuously even for 250-300 years (about 8-10 generations), however it all depends on many different factors. First and foremost on the researcher\\'s experience, language skills and handwriting expertise, as well as on such objective factors as the time and accuracy of registrations, the mobility of the family in point (peasant families were the most immobile, soldiers, merchants, railwaymen and clerks conducted a much more migratory life), the possible changing of names (Magyarized names!) or religions etc. The marriage service usually happened at the bride’s place of birth or residence. In case of an engaged couple where the bride and the bridegroom belonged to different Christian churches, the bride’s religion was determinant. In case of a mixed marriage where the bridegroom was Roman Catholic, church authorities obliged the future father to give letters of mutual concession. It was a written covenant to grant that the children born from the mixed marriage would follow the father’s religion. The obligation of letters of mutual concession was rescinded in 1894.

The sketch of the explored family tree of the Tóth family looks as follows:

József Tóth

Vera Porkoláb

Ferenc Ágoston

Ágnes Galacz

István Tóth

Gabriella Ágoston

Born: 20 Dec. 1862

Born.: 24 March 1868

Szabadka, St.Theresa

Szabadka, St.Theresa

Married: 20 Nov. 1885

József Tóth 
Born: 20 Oct. 1891
Szabadka, St.Theresa

(The mentioned persons and dates are fictive; they are indicated in order to illustrate the techniques of researching.)

Obstacles and difficulties of research in parish registers

Of course, research is rarely as simple as that. Several researchers, for lack of proper information about their families, find serious difficulties even in tracing back their origins until 1895. If there is no indication at the last known entry of the place/date of birth or residence of the explored/found ancestor, or there are inaccurate data – that is where difficulties begin. These concepts were frequently mixed up and the priests who kept the records often used the definitions of the place of birth and residence, which were not the same in every case, inconsistently. In such cases, the most practical solution is to look over some years forward and backward in the registers of the last known entry, supposing that you are lucky enough to find the place of origin or birth of your explored and known ancestor\\'s parents at one of his/her elder or younger brother\\'s or sister\\'s register record. According to the general practice, in the absence of definite birth/origin information, the great majority of researchers continue research in the registers of the appropriate religions of the surrounding localities. Frequently, taking the last known place as their starting-point, they look over all the registers of the localities situated within a radius of 10, 20, 30 kilometres or even more. This is an enormous work, and even this can turn out to be useless. Rarely but not impossibly registrations of one religion can be found in the register of another religion (e.g. a Calvinist in a Lutheran or a Greek Catholic in a Roman Catholic), as that denomination had no parish or church at the time or it was too far away from there. In some cases, supplementary genealogical sources may help to solve such problems (see the next chapter).

Rare family names often encourage inexperienced researchers. The appearance of such a name in another place, county or region, and its unchecked use, in most cases leads astray and more rarely to the expected solution. At the same time, a too common surname (e.g. Horvát[h], Kis[s], Kovács, Nagy, Német[h], Pap[p], Szabó, Tót[h], Varg[h]a etc.) can be equally deceiving. In such a case, the most advisable is to check such other data of the record as the address, street-number, names of the godparents/wedding witnesses etc. These can be decisive in identifying the possible circle of persons. Sometimes, registrars used cognomens or nicknames as official family names, or used alternately and mixed actual family names and cognomens.

Inaccurate, imperfect or missing register items can also put an end to a research or at least can make it extremely difficult. As mentioned above, in the 19th century and earlier, registration happened by oral declaration. As a result, especially in the case of outlandish surnames (German, Polish, Slovak, Croatian etc.) misspelling was very frequent. There are instances where a certain person\\'s surname is differently spelt whenever it appears in the registers. Sometimes, the registration of a new-born baby had simply been missed out from the register. If a village or small farm lay far away from the parish-church, the baby was weakling and on top of it all there was a cold winter and huge snow, then the midwife fleetingly baptized the baby. If the parents later forgot to announce all this to the parish priest, the baby\\'s birth simply could not appear in the register. Wars, revolutions and other unusual events also affected the accuracy of registrations. This way a lot of people were registered as legally dead 10-15 years after the actual date of their death, usually with the date and place where eyewitnesses had seen them to die in battle or last seen them alive. Even so, many of them were missed out from the registers of deaths and disappeared in the storms of history. Sometimes whole pages or years are missing from parish registers as a result of fires, floods or just for the lack of priests. If a parish priest died and there was no chaplain, registration stopped. Until the middle of the 19th century the parents of newly married couples were rarely indicated in the registers. For example, István Kiss, (20) and Anna Varga, (19) got married on 27 October 1842. Let us presume that 3 Anna Varga-s and 4 István Kiss-s were born in the same town or village between 1822 and 1823. As there is no information about the young couple\\'s parents at the marriage registration, in the absence of identification data (e.g. street name, street-number, godparents etc.) the research can stall. Registers of deaths can still be looked over to exclude some of the persons with the same names who possibly died before the date of the marriage. From the 80s and 70s of the 18th century backwards, there were frequent inaccuracies in the registrations of births, as well. Usually, the mother’s family name was not recorded. For example, István (Stephanus), born on 15 August 1783; parents: Péter Sípos (Petrus) and Anna. In such cases, the researcher should search for István’s possible brothers and sisters in the registers of births created before and after 1783, supposing that, after all, at one of their records the family name of the mother appears. If this does not lead to the expected result, one should search for the marriage registration of Péter Sípos and Anna. If you have good luck and find it, usually there must be indication of the bride’s family name. Even so, you can still find more marriages of persons with the same names. In that case, the "real" couple must be identified by means of other registry items. Similar inaccuracies may be found in early registers of marriages and deaths, too (e.g. on 2 August 1775, János Farkas (Joannes) and Ilona (Helena) got married). When, at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, churches switched over from continuous registration to the registration with tables and columns, such inefficiencies became less frequent but did not completely disappear. As a general characteristic, the older the registers are, the more inaccurate they are, the less data they contain and the more difficult they are to read.

More about the supplementary sources